Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

ISPs 'could track illegal downloading'

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The government has launched parliamentary debate on the Digital Economy Bill, which contains a series of controversial measures designed to combat unlawful online file-sharing.

At second reading in the Lords on 2 December 2009, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said internet service providers (ISPs) could be forced to record and track people who illegally downloaded files and even cut off users' connections.

Copyright owners would be able to apply for a court order to get access to the names and addresses of serious infringers and take legal action, Lord Mandelson told peers.

But the "exceptional" powers could see broadband users having to pay more for internet access because of the cost of the measures to ISPs, which official estimates say could be £500m.

Internet companies Google, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay have criticised plans to give the government the power to make further changes to copyright laws, which they fear could lead to greater monitoring of people's online activities.

But the business secretary argued that Britain's copyright regime was now 300 years old and needed updating to "reflect fast changing technology".

He said that the new powers would not be used "without full public consultation and approval from both Houses of Parliament".

The bill also includes powers to stop under-age children getting hold of violent computer games and gives media regulator Ofcom new powers to appoint providers of local news in ITV regions.

Lords Communication Committee chairman and Tory former cabinet minister Lord Fowler said the "major" bill dealt with a whole range of issues and he agreed with much of it in principle.

But, stressing his views were his personal ones, he said the government had fallen behind its timetable in outlawing illegal file sharing.

Lord Birt, former BBC director general, argued that the digital economy was "in many respects a lawless and unregulated place and I do not believe it can remain that way for much longer".

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